TRD’s Select Spaces team curates a weekly digest of the most opulent, out-there luxury home listings for every type of New Yorker.
Before the War, a pack of cigarettes was 72 cents and virtually everything south of Houston was a sweatshop. That overpriced hair salon? Sweatshop. Your startup’s open-plan office? Sweatshop. VEDA? Kooples? Zadig & Voltaire? They used to make clothes there. Now, they just sell them.
The war ended, factories closed and Uptown Manhattan got too expensive. Artists in the 60s then began setting up shop Downtown. The buildings are empty, they thought, what’s stopping us from just staying there? “Zoning laws?” These were people who had no problem taking over an abandoned public school and reopening it with a “hippie” curriculum emphasizing art and experimental learning.
These buildings were designed not for men — or women, for that matter — but machines, which sometimes meant no toilets. That never stopped American composer and plumber-by-trade Philip Glass or any of his contemporaries from making it work. But these five Soho lofts, curated and showcased by the Select Spaces team, thankfully have bathrooms, kitchens, floor-to-ceiling windows and everything else you need to live-work-play.
Outside of the box
88 Prince Street | 2 BR | $2.7 million
Artists don’t like to be put into boxes, unless it’s for a performance art piece, in which case they’d probably also need a hair dryer, a broken Barbie dreamhouse and an ice cream sundae (don’t ask).
So, they peaced out of Manhattan’s glorified shoeboxes and thus, the “Soho art gallery” as we know it emerged. She may have recoiled at the label, but the first-ever Soho art gallery was started by Paula Cooper on 96 Prince Street. Today it’s a high-end clothing store, but just steps away is 88 Prince Street.
This loft defies expectations and challenges norms of what an apartment “should” be. The all-white interior dares you to make it your own. There’s really no hiding in this sun-drenched modern masterpiece. That embarrassing Warhol ripoff from your first semester at Pratt? The one you swore would “never see the light of day?” I’ve got some bad news for you.
“Pedestrian” isn’t a dirty word here; the floor-to-ceiling windows allow them to see your work as they walk past. So, when someone says they can’t pay you but promises great exposure, just tell them you’re good. The city is your art gallery. Sliding panels throughout the space allow you to close off or break open, depending on your ever-changing moods. Suffice it to say you’ll never feel boxed in again.
491 Broadway | 1 BR | $2.9 million
If you’ve ever been to a modern art gallery or hung out with insufferable people, you know better than to look at a seemingly blank canvas and say, “I just don’t get it.” Nine times out of 10, the negative space is actually a commentary on society’s something-or-other-ism. “Nihilism” is a good one, but pick whichever one you want. Congratulations, you are now an art critic.
In this case, the blank canvas is 491 Broadway and the statement is “joint living and working quarters.” JLWQ (don’t try to pronounce it) was what the Department of Cultural Affairs called the artist lofts in the M1-5A and M1-5B districts. Practically overnight, the zoning amendment turned the cigarette-smoking perma-squatters into an integral part of “Soho’s historic character,” so long as they could fill out a form and get certified.
The gold star from the government wasn’t very punk rock, but the idea was to keep artists in spaces like this one. High ceilings allow for canvases of any size. No ladder? No problem — just lay it flat on the open concept floor and go to town. A freight elevator running up and down the building could transport both free-standing sculptures like those of Donald Judd and the gaggles of art school dropouts who came to see them.
Artists aren’t always great with numbers, but they knew that 4,000 square feet was enough space for a bed, or seven, maybe eight if my math is wrong. A kitchen could go just about anywhere. You could even jury-rig some DIY plumbing a la Philip Glass and turn the toilet into an art installation – just be prepared for them to call it “painfully derivative.”
81 Wooster Street | 3 BR | $7 million
Everyone’s a critic — you, me and everyone else who reads this. Seasoned and certified art critics, the lot of us. Why? Because I said so. Go update your Linkedin bio so everybody knows.
That, in essence, was the city’s Artist in Residence policy, rolled out in 1961 after it became horrifyingly clear that they needed a better system. Sometimes, labels are a good thing. But did they need to be ugly signs hung up on the front door to let everyone know that an artist lived there?
Terrible optics aside, this one was a non-starter. When you formalize something, it stops being fun and starts being more appealing to people outside the scene. You know where this is going.
Non-artists didn’t need placards or paint thinner. They needed 81 Wooster Street. This is a loft for the folks who may not have touched a paintbrush since preschool, but want a unique space to showcase their art collection. The living room gives a quasi-art studio vibe while still being a place to entertain normal people in a normal way.
The sophisticated bathroom is black, white and tiled all over in a period-accurate 1960s pattern, but you’ve still got that classic factory cast-iron column. The OG squatters may have needed their walls to be the blankest of blank, but these walls play with all sorts of color and texture – black, green, brick, wood, glass and not to mention a floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the living room.
Aesthetically eclectic, legally incoherent
293 Lafayette Street | 4 BR | $23.5 million
The city was really painting with a broad brush on this one. At the time they were enacted, zoning laws assumed, among other things, that there were only two types of Soho residents – Artists and Non-Artists. Laws like this false dichotomy are still on the books in 2021. Mapping laws from the 60s onto Soho as it is today doesn’t work. As author and historian Aaron Shkuda said, “Soho zoning codes came about as a historical accident.” What doesn’t work in real life, however, can often work in art. Case in point: 293 Lafayette Street.
If you lie upside down from your bed, an exposed brick wall becomes an exposed brick ceiling, like the one in this loft. Sleek beams of black run across the coarse reddish-brown, and there’s something oddly inviting about the imposing block-like fireplace. You may even find yourself staring up at the scalloped ceiling in the next room, wondering how they got the bricks to bend and curve like that.
The kitchen is, of all colors, pastel green. Anyone who says you can’t mix metals can eat their words here. The gas stove could belong in an industrial kitchen, but the little dials and the door of the oven are all gold.
The master bathroom looks like a glitch in the Matrix. The floor, walls, countertop and entire outside of the bathtub are veined marble. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature, along with everything else about this high-concept apartment that “doesn’t make sense.”
Punk’s not dead
112 Greene Street | 3 BR | $4.3 million
Art is more than just crawling into a cardboard box and pouring an ice cream sundae on your head. Sometimes it’s grabbing a microphone and screaming at the government, which is what groups like Public Enemy and Sonic Youth did at 112 Greene Street.
The apartment formerly known as Greene Street Recording Studios survived the rezonings and remained a creative space throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. And then came 2001.
The dream’s not dead, though. It doesn’t have to be when you see the bright red exposed pipe in the dining area and exposed brick wall in the living room. This space brings the artistic grittiness of the midcentury to the present, for the lapsed punk looking for some elevated nostalgia.
If you find yourself missing the graffitied recording studio bathroom walls of yore, I wouldn’t blame you. But I’d urge you to consider the luxe infinity bathtub. How’s that for “underground?”